Any woman in the trades can attest, we’re usually the only female in the room. According the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Statistics, there are three female plumbers for every 100 male plumbers. Needless to say, the trades are a man’s world. However, in the midst of this male dominated industry, a handful of women trail-blaze their way past the concept of “token female.” Through the various facets of the industry, I discovered each segment of the industry reacts to women in their workforce in drastically different ways.
In August of 2013, I began the PHCC DOL sponsored Plumber’s Apprentice Program at St. Phillip’s Southwest College (that’s a mouth full). The program spans four years and includes a combination of classroom instruction and on the job training. At the completion of the four year program, an apprentice should be fully prepared to take the Journeyman Plumber exam and after only one year, take their test to become a Master Plumber (usually takes eight years cumulatively). Of the thirty students enrolled the program, surprise, I was the only female student. For the next eight months, I worked side by side with other plumbing apprentices. Their experiences in the industry greatly differed from my own. As a director of operations, I’m privileged to be able to work in the office and out in the field. My peers work in the field, some for almost double the hours I work in a week and for half of my salary. These are hard working men, with families to support. They chose to be in class in their coveted free evening hours to earn more money and create more opportunities for themselves in the future. I possess mad respect for these gentlemen and was honored to work beside them and call them friends. They taught me innumerable lessons from how to conserve energy while threading pipe, to a glimpse at the infamous conversational topics on a construction site. They shared their mutual respect regarding my reasons for choosing to enroll in the program and I shared my knowledge of business, insurance, taxes, marketing and other operational systems.
The office, typically, contains the most amount of female employees in the industry. From customer service representatives to estimators, office managers to accountants women usually outnumber men in this part of the industry. In my office we employ a male dispatcher and a male customer service representative. However, a female in the office encounters all of the male technicians. I’ve never been sexually harassed, propositioned or ever felt anything but completely comfortable around these gentlemen. I understand there are staggering statistics for gender related issues in the workplace. I cannot speak to that, but can say I have not experienced any negativity in the workplace.
Compared to my apprentice counterparts, my time out in the field has been limited by my responsibilities to the business as the head of operations. However, my employer and coworkers understand my desire to learn the trades and my time limitations, so all make the best efforts to help me when and where they are able. The first time I took a call, it was on a larger job involving a commercial grade backflow preventer. The lead on the job kept picking other apprentices to complete tasks or assist the plumbers, when there was no one left to assign but myself, I was placed on assignment like my peers. I believe that to be a prime example of subconscious chivalry.
Involvement in industry organizations and social events, helps contractors build a strong network of connections within their industry. Professionally, I’ve met contractors, manufacturers, representatives, technicians, apprentices and more through the industry organizations I frequent and support. In this sector, I have faced the most amount of adversity. While the majority of these individuals have been kind, supportive, inquisitive and constructive, a select few have been rude, cruel, exclusive, derogatory and negative. My mere presence in these “good ol’ boys” groups seems to offend and insult those whose families have spent generations in the trades. That’s right boys! I’m a young, motivated, minority female and I’m not going anywhere.
I appreciate the positive and negative aspects of every faction of the industry. Without conflict, there cannot be any growth. Any woman interested in pursuing a career in the trades, should do extensive research to ensure this is the right fit for her and her family. If you, or anyone you know, has any questions regarding women in the trades, please feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.